Jeanne English knew something was wrong a few months ago when construction crews began piling mountains of dirt behind her fence to start three buildings in the Dublin Terrace Townhomes.
She and other neighbors knew the hard-fought site development plan approved by the city in 2006 called for Todays Homes to build lower-profile townhomes that slope down, with the natural grade, not sit atop 7 feet of dirt.
But before long, her home and the others on Whereabout Court, along with several on Many Springs Drive, were being dwarfed by three towering townhome buildings, each upwards of 35 to 40 feet tall.
“I look out my window and their front doors are higher than my fence,” English said. “These buildings loom over me. This is crazy.”
Now, those buildings are ready for occupancy but the city won’t allow it because officials say they are in serious violation of the development plan.
Todays Home president Mil Younkers says the structures were built by mistake and he’s asking the Colorado Springs Planning Commission at its April 19 meeting to amend the 2006 site plan and let them remain.
Younkers insists it’s not a case of a rogue developer deliberately ignoring the blueprints, building what he wanted and then asking forgiveness once construction was finished.
“No one maliciously went out and built those units,” Younkers said. “We’ve told the homeowners it was a mistake. We told the city we made a mistake. Now how do we rectify it?”
Younkers said the error is the result of a complete change in leadership at Todays Homes in 2009 when he was hired as president and brought in a new team.
He said his team struggled to sell three townhomes in the first low-profile building constructed a year ago.
“The market was not responding to the units approved for those lots,” he said. “We made the marketing decision to build (larger) units.
“We contacted our surveyor and confirmed they would fit and we made the change.”
But the development plan dictates what could be built, I told him.
The blueprints show exactly which type building goes on which lot. There was no ambiguity I could see. How could that be a mistake?
“No one understood specific building types were called out on that plan,” Younkers said. “It got by us all.”
English scoffed at that explanation. Me, too.
“They are professional builders,” she said. “How could you not know that?”
Younkers added that the city should have caught the error when Todays Homes requested building permits or during multiple inspections by the Regional Building Department.
City planner Rick O’Connor rejects that suggestion, pointing to the blueprints, which spell out detailed guidelines for grading and building types.
“We had very specific conditions on the developer to address the impacts of size, scale and bulk of this project on the adjacent single family homes,” O’Connor said. “That’s why we required lower-profile units next to the neighborhood.”
So what happens now, I wondered.
The city is evaluating the Todays Homes proposal and taking neighbors’ suggestions.
The feedback is not terribly positive.
“Tear them down,” said Bill Sheridan, a 7-year Whereabout Court resident. “The developer admitted they couldn’t make any money selling the smaller units. So they decided to build the larger buildings.
“The city ought to pull their license, fine them to the maximum extent of the law, tear them down and put in what was approved.”
Would the city be satisfied with Younkers’ suggestion he chop 8 feet off the roofs of each building to soften the lines and plant 50 trees to buffer the buildings?
“I think it’s going to be very difficult for them to comply with our review criteria,” O’Connor said ominously. “I think moving the buildings may be an option.”
Moving buildings that cost $300,000 or so to build? Really?
“It’s not conceivable that these buildings could be moved,” Younkers said.
Well, then. Maybe a solution will emerge from a neighborhood meeting Younkers is planning next week.
Or, I suppose, they could just take Sheridan’s suggestion: “Blow them up!”
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